How to Paint Walls & Ceilings Different Colors

Good technique will help you paint walls and a ceiling professionally.
Good technique will help you paint walls and a ceiling professionally. (Image: room painting image by Stephen Orsillo from

In most cases, walls and ceilings should be painted in different colors for architectural and lighting purposes. While this isn’t a hard rule—and more people are painting ceilings the same color as walls these days—it is a rule that makes sense. Ceilings that are a separate color from a wall help to visually separate the space and put a solid “lid” on the room. Ceilings that are painted white can be very effective in increasing light refraction and distribution throughout the room.

Things You'll Need

  • Canvas or plastic tarps
  • Hammer
  • Small pry bar
  • Clear plastic
  • Wall spackle
  • Spackle knife
  • Sanding block
  • Ceiling spake or patch materials
  • Sash brush
  • Roller head
  • Roller covers
  • Extension pole
  • Cap
  • Eyewear
  • Nose and mouth mask
  • Primer-sealer
  • Ceiling paint
  • Wall paint

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Remove all the furniture from the room or move it to a central position. Cover the furniture with canvas painters’ tarps or thick plastic tarps. Remove any baseboards or ceiling trims with a hammer and small pry bar, or mask them with painter's tape. Remove electrical outlet and switch covers. Cover the floor with tarps.

Take down all draperies and art work. Remove any ceiling light covers or “bag” hanging chandeliers with a clear plastic bag or wrapping of clear plastic tarp. Make sure light bulbs don’t make contact with the plastic wrapping.

Spackle any holes in the walls using a fast-drying spackle. Apply the spackle with a flexible metal spackle knife. Let the spackle dry and then use a sand block to remove any rough areas of spackle.

Patch any ceiling cracks using a spackle product especially designed for ceiling crack repair. Follow directions on the packaging. You may need to reinforce large cracks with ceiling crack repair tape. Let the patch work dry thoroughly.

Don a cap, long-sleeved shirt, eye protection and a nose and mouth mask before painting the ceiling with a roller applicator. Painting a ceiling with a roller assembly and a long extension pole is the fastest way to get the job done, but the roller creates a fine spray of paint droplets that can get into your eyes and hair, on your skin and can be inhaled.

Paint the ceiling with a high-quality primer-sealer product. If you’re painting white onto white, ask your paint technician about adding disappearing tint products. Primer tints go on pink or blue, but dry white. They will help you keep track of what you’ve painted and what you haven’t painted. Let the paint dry completely.

Apply the finish paint. For most rooms, choose a white, an off-white, a very light gray, or a very faint pastel color paint that will complement your wall color. It is rarely a good idea to paint a ceiling a very dark, solid color since it will make the ceiling feel much lower. This could work, however, in a room with a very tall ceiling (12 feet or more in height) to “bring the ceiling down” visually.

Paint the walls with primer-sealer. “Cut in” the edges of the walls, and the corners, with a sash brush, and then fill in the walls with a roller applicator. Let dry.

Paint the walls with your selected wall color. Cut in around the edges and corners with a brush first, and then fill in the wall with a roller applicator. Let dry.

Apply a second coat of paint, particularly for red paints or dark colors. Let dry.

Restore the electrical covers, baseboards and trim and re-dress the room. Remove the plastic from the lighting fixture and restore any light covers.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you need to stop painting for a few hours or overnight, place your brush and roller head and cover in the paint tray, submersed in wet paint. Place the tray inside a plastic garbage bag and close the bag around the roller handle. The brushes and roller cover will stay wet for several days and can be used without having to wash out the brushes or use a second roller cover. Clean brushes and dispose of the used roller covers once you have finished with that paint color. Save any unused paint in sealed cans or a jelly jar. Label the container with the date, color name and paint manufacturer.


  • "Can't Fail Color Schemes"; Amy Wax; 2007
  • "The Paint Effects Bible"; Kerry Skinner; 2003
  • "1001 Ideas For Color and Paint"; Emma Callery; 2006
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